Feminist sexology

Feminist sexology is an offshoot of traditional studies of sexology that focuses on the intersectionality of sex and gender in relation to the sexual lives of women. Feminist sexology shares many principles with the overarching field of sexology; in particular, it does not try to prescribe a certain path or "normality" for women's sexuality, but only observe and note the different and varied ways in which women express their sexuality. It is a young field, but one that is growing rapidly.


Many of the topics that feminist sexologists study include (but are not limited to) reproductive rights, sex work, gay and transgender identities, marriage, pornography and gender roles. Much of the work within feminist sexology has been done within the last few decades, focusing on the movements of sexual liberation in the 1960s and 1970s, the introduction of an easily handled and effective means of contraception, lesbian and transgender visibility, and the stronger waves of women taking charge of their lives. There has been much debate about whether the sexual revolution was really beneficial to women, if a pro-sex attitude can really be achieved within the context of Western society, but as new voices are lifted, layers of interpretation and knowledge can be gathered.

“Women endure sexual harassment to keep their jobs and learn to behave in a complacently and ingratiatingly heterosexual manner… the woman who too decisively resists sexual overtures in the workplace is accused of being ‘dried-up and sexless, or lesbian.”

The lesbian in society is of utmost importance in that she bears the weight of judgement and oppression on her shoulders for love and the progression of the woman. On page 649 of “Compulsory Heterosexuality” Rich writes,

“Lesbian existence comprises both the breaking of a taboo and the rejection of a compulsory way of life.”
“Sex work is an occupation… Prostitutes are a criminal sexual population stigmatized on the basis of sexual activity… Prostitutes are the primary prey of vice police.”

Anti-prostitution laws have also surfaced in recent years, dismantling prostitution in local jurisdictions and restricting various forms of sexual commerce. On page 163, Rubin writes how these actions are justified:

“[These actions are] rationalized by portraying them as menaces to health and safety, women and children… or civilization itself. Even when activity is acknowledged to be harmless, it may be banned because it is alleged to ‘lead’ to something ostensibly worse.”

In her article “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality,” Gayle Rubin states that society teaches children about gender and sex; they know nothing about it when they are born, because gender and sex are socially constructed ideas. Society teaches our children about social norms through actions. This models gender through behavior and children learn to act in a certain way depending if they are male or female.

During the nineteenth century, the idea of masturbation was considered to be a taboo and unhealthy practice. What was thought of as premature sexual interest in a child was strongly discouraged, because sexual excitement of any kind was thought to damage the health and discourage the maturation of a child. In the past, parents have resorted to extreme measures to prevent children from mastubating, such as tying them down to keep from touching themselves or even making permanent surgical changes to their genitals. While these extreme measures have for the most part been abandoned in today’s society, the attitude that the idea of sex is harmful to children still endures.

According to Anne Fausto-Stearling, Infant Genital Surgery is a cosmetic surgery performed on infants who do not fit into a defined gender category (sometimes with or without the parent’s consent). The surgery reshapes their sexual reproductive organs into either male or female gender binaries without considering the child’s wishes or what they may have chosen later in life. This can lead to gender confusion and unhappiness as the child grows, and may even have a biological physical impact on how the child’s reproductive organs develop.

Gayle Rubin argues that modern society judges sex acts through their theoretical value. She states that “Marital, reproductive heterosexuals are alone at the top erotic pyramid.” This means that because the people engaging in sex are married, heterosexual, and the possibility of reproduction is present, the act of sex has a higher value in accordance with societal norms. Unmarried heterosexual sex is also valued, but not as much. Monogamous, heteronormative lesbian and gay relationships are not quite as respected, but are considered to still be of minimal value. “The most despised sexual castes currently include transsexuals, transvestites, fetishists, sadomasochists, sex workers such as prostitutes and porn models...” Solitary sex acts, or masturbation, are not even considered a part of the hierarchy. These sex acts are ordered in such a way because of their ability to reproduce and create children. “According to this system, sexuality that is ‘good’, ‘normal’, and ‘natural’ should ideally be heterosexual, marital, monogamous, reproductive, and non-commercial.” Anything relating to sex that breaks these societally prescribed rules is considered to be “bad” and “unnatural,” such as homosexuality, fetish objects, the use of pornography, and casual sex, amongst others.

“All these hierarchies of sexual value – religious, psychiatric, and popular – function in much the same ways as do ideological systems of racism, ethnocentrism, and religious chauvinism. They rationalize the well-being of the sexually privileged and the adversity of the sexual rabble.”

Influential thinkers


Three Main Points

Male power

Under the patriarchal culture of sexual desire, women are suppressed to express their true feeling about sexual behaviors. Women’s fear of desire keeps them quiet and justify society’s belief that men have the power and authority in the relationships. Women are not allowed to express their sexual needs and against masturbation. “Our acts against oppression become integral with self, motivated and empowered from within,” states Audre Lorde. For Lorde, “the erotic” is not just sexuality; it is the power for people to love and be passionate about what they do in life. She sees “the erotic” as “power” because she believes that if women have erotic “power”, they can have voice and be themselves in their lives.[2] Moreover, the concept of compulsory heterosexuality makes the society believes that lesbian's sexuality is out of the norm. While there is a general recognition that the majority of sexual acts occur without the intent of reproduction, the definition of sex is still biological in nature, meaning that sex is heterosexual sex and that entails vaginal intercourse.[3] Men believe that lesbians would defeat their power so they force heterosexuality as a default sexual orientation and disdain lesbians to make coming out difficult. Lesbianism is a threat to male supremacy because it destroys the myth about female inferiority, weakness, passivity.[4]

Sexual Violence

Sexual assault, rape and domestic sexual violence are serious issues in our society. Each year, for 35 of every 1,000 college women, those life-changing events will include a sexual assault.[5] Many people blame sexual harassment and rape on women for staying outside at night, wearing short skirts, or flirting. The society put the faults on women’s behaviors, trying to make them feel bad. When women start thinking themselves as “trouble makers”, they remain silence. Moreover, many victims are afraid of embarrassing their families and believe that rape victims rarely get justice, instead they will be scolded. Even though all women face this oppression, yet women of color are more vulnerable to sexual assault than white women. The Jezebel stereotype portrayes women of colors as “unrapeable”.[6]

Control of Body

Many women around the world, especially in Africa and Asia, are the victims of sex trafficking, sex slavery, child labor, genital mutilation or cutting and sterilization. Those women neither have controls of their own bodies nor freedom to speak for themselves. The documentary, based on the book, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, focuses on this issues in six different countries. It talks about what sexual oppression women are facing in these places, how the government ignores and justifies the issues, and what organizations are working to fight for these victims.[7]

See also

Further reading


  1. Leonore Tiefer's official page
  2. Lorde, Audre. The Uses of the Erotic. Kore Press, Jan. 2000.
  3. "The Politics of Sexual Knowledge: Feminism and Sexology Textbooks". Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies. 9.
  4. Bunch, Charlotte. Lesbians in Revolt. 1972.
  5. Fisher, Bonnie S., Francis T. Cullen, and Michael G. Turner. The Sexual Victimization of College Women. National Institute of Justice, Dec. 2000.
  6. http://sapac.umich.edu/article/57
  7. http://www.pbs.org/independentlens/half-the-sky/

External links

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